Cherishing Our Big or Small ‘Easter’ Moments

Mile Chapel cornerstoneSeeing photo of his old neighborhood inspires Rev. Edlen Cowley to offer personal reflection of hope

Despite the negativity and polarization in our country, the broader community, and the broader church itself, I continue to be an optimist who is always on the lookout for “Easter” moments, moments to celebrate the ongoing instances of hope and resurrection in our world, no matter how "big" or "small" they may be. I think these moments, when identified, should be lifted up and celebrated because the brightness of their light chips away at the frustration, anger and division that is all around us. That is why this picture, taken on our most recent Fellowship UMC Student Ministry Hurricane Harvey Mission Trip, means so much to me. This image is a personal “Easter” moment for me.

For context and backstory, I did not grow up United Methodist. My dad, the late Rev. Dr. Gilbert Thomas Cowley, was ordained in the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) church and served in ministry for more than 40 years. Of the many positive memories I have of the CME Church, my most vivid memories come from the time my dad served at Miles Chapel CME Church which is located in the heart of Fifth Ward, an inner-city community in Houston. The church and the church parsonage were both on Lyons Avenue, a known “tough” street that runs through the heart of the Fifth Ward community.

Rev. Edlen CowleyDuring my family’s time at Miles, I made several big decisions in my life. I chose Boy Scouts and being active in Miles' Youth Ministry over gang initiation and participation; as a student at Philliss Wheatley High School, I chose Marketing and Distributive Education, which led me to being hired to work at Gordon’s Jewelers in downtown Houston at the age of 15. My job required me to leave school after a half day and catch the METRO bus to go to work, rather than spending my time running the streets. Finally, so many members of Miles Chapel poured, spoke and invested in me; in hindsight it’s no surprise that their love and care created a ministry climate that led to me receiving my call to ministry at age 15.

I had several friends and classmates who made significant decisions at this time in their lives as well. To this day I wonder where they are and how their lives turned out. Without a shadow of a doubt, Miles Chapel, a church in ministry in the heart of Houston's inner-city changed lives; I am living proof of the effectiveness of its ministry. That’s why this picture means so much to me.

On the last workday of our youth’s mission trip, our Associate Pastor, Rev. Ashley Anne Sipe, took one of our work teams a few blocks over from where they had been working in Kashmere Gardens to Miles Chapel, the church “in the ‘hood” that had changed my life. I had talked with Ashley Anne earlier in the week about how close they were to my old neighborhood, but I thought nothing of it after our conversation.

When I saw this picture posted on social media, it brought a bright and broad smile to my face. The youth and adults from the suburban church I serve went and found the inner-city church I grew up in. Not only did they visit, they found a cornerstone, with my dad’s name on it, which had been placed on June 19th (Juneteenth) of 1983. I didn't even remember the cornerstone as I was a 14-year-old youth in 1983. Upon seeing this image, I paused and prayed for our students because many of them, just like me in 1983, are making big decisions that will have lifetime impact.

Mission goup from Fellowship UMCShortly after this picture was posted on social media, Miles Chapel's Pastor, Rev. Valencia Edner reached out and thanked Ashley Anne and our team for stopping by and asked if there was a way that we might partner in ministry together. Ashley Anne expressed her excitement for Rev. Edner's invitation because our students wanted to find ways to stay connected to the community.

A bit later one of my childhood friends Makeba Vonner, who I grew up with at Miles, wrote and spoke about how much the image meant to her as well. She wrote: "I am so moved by these pictures. Literally they made me teary-eyed. So many great times. I feel like I owe so many people on this cornerstone. They've passed on, but what they put in us will live eternally. I will never forget my time at Miles Chapel and all the wonderful Godly adults that cared about us. Thank you God for keeping our church grounded on the word through Rev Bundage and then later Pastor and Mrs. Cowley."

Published: Monday, July 23, 2018